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Russia goes to the polls in popularity test for Putin

Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko

Russians are voting in legislative elections with the United Russia party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin again expected to win the majority in the State Duma parliament but with fewer seats. The vote comes amid claims by opponents that the authorities had downed websites and harassed monitors to limit dissent. 

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Sunday’s elections are seen as a crucial test of Putin's popularity in Russia as he prepares to stand in March 2012 presidential elections to return to the Kremlin after his four-year stint as prime minister.

Independent monitor group Golos (Voice) says its "Map of Violations" website documenting reports of campaign fraud was the target of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

Putin had lashed out at Golos last weekend, comparing its activities to the disciple Judas who betrayed Jesus. President Dmitry Medvedev Friday rejected claims of foul play saying elections were "one of the greatest manifestations of democracy".

The website of popular radio station Moscow Echo, which is owned by state gas monopoly Gazprom but often tackles sensitive issues, also says it was subject to a similar hacker attack.

"The attack on the website on election day is clearly an attempt to inhibit the publication of information about violations," Moscow Echo editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov wrote on Twitter.

Russia's two rulers - who are set to swap jobs in 2012 with Medvedev becoming prime minister - voted at separate polling stations without making any comment.

The four years since the last parliamentary vote in 2007 have been marked by an outburst of criticism of the authorities on the Internet as web penetration of Russia started to finally catch up with the rest of Europe.

Opinion polls have predicted that United Russia's nationwide poll rating will drop from 2007 when it secured a landslide majority of 64.3 percent and won 315 seats in the State Duma.

The three main opposition parties - the Communists, the nationalist Liberal Democrats and the populist A Just Russia - expect their support to increase without posing any significant challenge to United Russia.
 

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